A land of spectacular deserts, high mountains and rainforests that teem with wildlife, Peru is also home to an array of dramatically situated pre-Colombian ruins, including Machu Picchu.
Travel bucket list idea:
Hike the Santa Cruz Circuit
Huaraz, Ancash Region, Peru|
The Santa Cruz Circuit is the gold standard of short Andes hikes, and one of the most beautiful walks in South America. The landscapes are magnificent and the 50km trail – which takes three or four days – is doable for the moderately fit.
You won’t see long ridges of 5,000m-high, snow-capped peaks hiking on the Inca Trail around Cusco. But you will on the Santa Cruz hike, which cuts through the heart of the Cordillera Blanca – the highest range of mountains in the tropics. The trail runs through plunging valleys dotted with clear-water lakes, climbs over breathy passes, and passes by the giant 6,768m peak of Huascaran – the tallest mountain in Peru.
The Santa Cruz trek is the short counterpart to the even more spectacular, but longer and more challenging, Huayhuash circuit. Opt for Santa Cruz if you’ve only one week to spare and have concerns about altitude sickness.
Getting there & doing it
Hikes are easy to organise in the mountain town of Huaraz – Peru’s counterpart to Pokhara in Nepal, with numerous agencies and equipment shops.
Compared to Huayhuash it’s an easy walk, but it requires moderate fitness and it’s still important to come prepared. This is a 50km hike and you will reach a maximum elevation of 4760 metres and weather can be capricious. Allow at least two days to acclimatise in Huaraz before the hike, and while it’s possible to walk without a guide, it’s advisable to use one. Prices are very affordable; and can even be cheaper than going solo as all rental gear and food is included.
The hike begins at Cashapampa, a short bus hop from Huaraz. Most walkers take four days. The second day is the hardest – with the high pass at Taulliraju, where views are as breath-taking as the climb.
When to do it
The best time to do the hike is between May and mid-September, when the weather is dry and warm and the skies are generally clear. Hiking in the wet season – October to April – does mean warmer temperatures, and less people on the trail, but mountain passes can be blocked with snow and there is risk of avalanches.
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